Mindfulness for Children in Public Schools Through Secular Yoga

Mindfulness is quite popular these days.  It is great to see more people interested in improving their daily lives by learning mindfulness practices.  One of my teachers, exceptionally experienced in mindfulness practice with more than 40 years of sitting down and watching the breath, reminds us that the "product" of mindfulness does not quite fit in with the practice of mindfulness.  For example, expecting mindfulness to erase our problems and make our days smoother is not how this contemplative practice works.  Mindfulness can build confidence and faith in ourselves to stick-to-it, whatever "it" is that we want to either run from or give up on in life.  We all know how exasperated we feel when life events do not go as we wish.  A "whatever" attitude is quite pervasive these days when things don't unfold like we want.  Most of us teachers experience difficult days in which we feel like giving up.  Breathing and steadying ourselves and teaching children the same is crucial to navigate those moments when we feel like a huge hurdle blocks our path.  Most of us, if not all of us, have to learn how to navigate through obstacles with a calm and caring attitude.  That type of resilience that comes with a gentle tone must be nurtured and drawn out in ourselves so that we can stay connected with others.

We will find slightly different definitions of mindfulness.  The root, however, is cultivating awareness.  Again, it is such a positive step in our society's evolution to have the yearning to know more.  I was taught that mindfulness means "to see more" and from seeing more, it could be argued that knowledge increases.  Our first impression of seeing more or knowing more may not be what brings us more peace, intrigue or ease in life.  It is very important that when we engage in mindfulness practice we include a softer tone, a gentleness.   To simply be more aware, more knowledgable may distance ourselves from others.  To see that we have more in common with others than we initially think, is one of the cornerstones of mindfulness.  When I was 9 years old, my family was vacationing at the beach in South Carolina.  I was walking on the beach with my dad holding hands.  I can still feel the comfort of this simple gesture, walking with my father, hand-in-hand, knowing that he loved me.  Children find great comfort in the simple moments of life when they sense the attention and care of their family or care-givers is genuine. Seems to me, we respond favorably to this the of gentle interaction with others no matter what our age.  I said to my dad, "! really want to be a genius!"  This idea must have come from some impression that knowing more, being super smart was exciting or would make one successful in some way.  My dad, so true to his gentle and balanced manner said, "No, my dear.  You don't want to be a genius."  I, of course, said, "Why not!"  He said, "Because you will not be able to relate to others."  Well, I am still moved by these words so many years later.  With the mindfulness practice, we do want to see more, and by seeing more of how we move, think, feel, and speak, along with the intention of calm and kindness, we will enjoy relating more to people, during school and throughout life.

Events that have happened for the first 4-5 years of s child’s live are out of our control. As teachers, what we can decidedly do is offer the self-regulating tools for them to use now, especially in the classroom.  They will not change overnight, none of us do.  They will go in and out of positive self-direction, like we also do.  We need courage to not give up on them nor ourselves.  I remind teachers that SCHOOL Yoga and Mindfulness methods, just like any other subject matter, requires consistent study, investigation, and application.  Because children love to move around, the SCHOOL methods are inviting; however, I spend substantial time relating to the teachers how to maintain the balance between movement and self-discipline to their students. Not an easy task!  But as with most rewarding things in life, we must practice again and again, override giving up or checking out, in order to strengthen the habits that bring more confidence and contentment.

SCHOOL Kids Yoga & Mindfulness Teacher Training, is an adaptation of the yoga and meditation practice with mindfulness methods threaded throughout.  A high priority of mine is the ability to relate this contemplative practice to children, teachers, parents, and administrators in a manner that makes sense for including the methods within the school day, as relevant subject matter, not an after school activity.  I’ve created SCHOOL Yoga terminology, movements, motivations, and practicalities that relate easily and instantly to others.  The SCHOOL Kids Yoga & Mindfulness Program is not what the general public perceives as yoga and mediation.  Some of the movements are recognizable by traditional practitioners, however, the manner in which they are taught is unique.  If this contemplative practice is integrated into the school day, it must make sense within a classroom and must look quite different from a yoga studio class.  

Children need consistent reminders of why yoga and meditation bring focus, well-being, and learning.  The SCHOOL Yoga methods are not fun games and movements meant simply to relax children.  The point is to tap into the ability to ground, steady, ad focus oneself in order to then strengthen the helpful motivations and behaviors that help children feel confident and demonstrate kindness.  It is essential that positive behaviors, character building, and secular ethics are taught in ways that are embodied within children, not just in concept.  Our days vary, along with our moods and experiences.  The ability to focus and cultivate a gentle tone waxes and wanes for all of us. Mindfulness practice, if practiced consistently, can help balance our feelings and thoughts so that we learn over time to not get swept away with the rollercoaster of emotions and countless distractions maybe as often.  We will experience ups and downs, so why not strengthen the ability to recognize when we are on the rollercoaster and gently steady ourselves?  It is not an easy task but learned early in life, perhaps we would have a few less entangled habits to undo as the years go by.  Life's complexity seems to be increasing.  A practice to return to the simpleness of live and appreciation is greatly needed.

The many teachers who take my SCHOOL Kids Yoga & Mindfulness Training are exemplary.  They are overall, new to yoga and meditation with a large percentage having zero to very little experience in this field.  They are often times seasoned with over 12 years of teaching experience, with some over 20 years in the classroom.  They share in our training course that the ability to manage their classroom has been presenting many challenges and their usual way of management and discipline are not producing favorable results.  They express a deep concern for the well-being of their students.  These teachers also share that they want to continue to improve their teaching proficiency.  We can easily say that these teachers have reached a point of wanting to step into new ground, opening themselves to new methods.  In my 25 years of practicing yoga and meditation, I know this "new ground" state as beginner’s mind.  It is a keystone to mindfulness.  It is common for adults to learn yoga and recognize benefits which compels consistent practice.  However, in today’s yoga classes for adults, if the adult students do not constantly refresh the beginner’s mindset and practice instead with the main intent of achieving poses and flexibility, their yoga teacher has most likely fallen short in their skill or the student has not truly listened in class.  To more properly practice yoga and meditation is to develop improved self-direction, which means the physical use of the body, the ability to recognize feelings and thoughts without necessarily jumping into reaction, and to strengthen the motivations that are helpful to oneself and others, like patience.  We can see that this endeavor is comprehensive as it calls us to take an honest look at ourselves, with a gentle tone.

Being simple, speaking gently, and relating to people is an art form and like any artful skill, must be practiced.  The nested heart image below was given as a gift to me this afternoon by a fourth grade girl.  On her own, she must have been motivated to express kindness.  The children I teach do not know the depth of gratitude I feel from each drawing, letter, eraser, and more little everyday items that I have been given.  Every gift is kept and cherished.  The simple moments of life, experienced with awareness and gentleness helps grow mindful caring people.  Let's start early and teach our youth mindfulness in school.